Two rounds into the Six Nations with three to go, it is time to check who is making the plane to New Zealand for the Lions tour.
In a couple of weeks we’ll return to the laboratory to chart who has improved their chances and who has slipped down the pecking order, doing our best to help Warren Gatland settle on who should make his squad.
If a superstar player is missing, that is likely down to a major injury or suspension rather than preference. And matching the 2013 squad, we have gone with 16 backs and 21 forwards.
Your feedback matters in this process, so let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Pack that suitcase: Two players fast becoming automatic selections are Stuart Hogg of Scotland and Liam Williams of Wales, in part because they have each bagged three tries thus far in the Six Nations but in principle because they are both exuding confidence at the moment. Were the first Test tomorrow, Hogg would have the edge. Who then to take as the third option? Some of England’s more versatile backs are beginning to stir but Leigh Halfpenny clings on here, after one of his better performances against Italy. He is on the brink however.
On standby: Mike Brown’s best form is arguably behind him while Rob Kearney also flashed against Scotland, so the two are in contention.
Best make other plans: Alex Goode, Tiernan O’Halloran, Dan Evans
Pack that suitcase: Simon Zebo and Tommy Seymour (what a great break in Paris for Tim Swinson’s try) have done nothing to hurt their claims and George North remains in the hunt, in part on the back of that exceptional long-range try against Italy before he missed the England fixture due to a dead leg. That leaves space for one more wing and for now we’re giving it to Jack Nowell, the Exeter Chiefs back who not only offers plenty of versatility but is a class act all round.
On standby: Anthony Watson drops down prior to his return from injury, where he joins Jonny May. Tommy Bowe‘s hopes appear to be fading while Keith Earls is also among those hoping for a shot.
Best make other plans: Tim Visser, Steff Evans, Alex Cuthbert
Pack that suitcase: Despite being subbed off early by England in the first two matches, it would be a surprise if Jonathan Joseph doesn’t tour given how much he has improved as a defender along with his attacking instincts. Robbie Henshaw is mature beyond his years and can be deployed at 12 or 13. Scott Williams is at his peak for Wales and can be such a devastating ball carrier. Which leaves one more slot for Elliot Daly to sneak into, the versatile England back who has been used as a wing but plays centre for Wasps and can even play full-back. He’s in a by a whisker…
On standby: …because Alex Dunbar has done little wrong and we continue to be impressed by Garry Ringrose. Huw Jones isn’t out of the race either and yes, Jonathan Davies’ missed kick to touch is all we’ve spoken about this week but his form has picked up. Ben Te’o is also making a late charge.
Best make other plans: Jamie Roberts, Henry Slade, Jared Payne, Rory Scannell, Mark Bennett
Pack that suitcase: Owen Farrell remains the number one fly-half option, even though he continues to wear 12 for England, and for now the second option here is… Paddy Jackson, after an accomplished showing against Italy. That could all change soon though.
On standby: Close to a return is Jonathan Sexton and the Ireland veteran will be expected to start over Jackson in Round Three. George Ford’s isn’t exactly flatlining for England, with his distribution still impressive, and how about Dan Biggar against England? This is very, very tight, with Finn Russell pushing hard as well.
Best make other plans: Joey Carbery, Sam Davies, Duncan Weir
Pack that suitcase: Still in pole position sits Conor Murray followed by Ben Youngs, but an injury to a certain Scotland captain has opened up a third space, with Rhys Webb slotting in. Webb and Murray’s battle in Round Three will be well worth watching.
On standby: Danny Care has made a noticeable impact off the bench for England in recent matches and his pace can break games open. Ali Price, set for a big few weeks with Greig Laidlaw out, has the chance to impress too. We still like the idea of Laidlaw as mid-week tour captain though.
Best make other plans: Gareth Davies, Henry Prygos, Kieran Marmion, Luke McGrath
Pack that suitcase: To keep picking Billy Vunipola here when he hasn’t played a minute of the Six Nations and is only like to return off the bench against Ireland is pushing it a little, but he was phenomenal last year. Jamie Heaslip meanwhile sneaks in ahead of Taulupe Faletau after a bright start to the Six Nations at the age of 33.
On standby: Taulupe Faletau of course is right in the mix, even if his substitution for Ross Moriarty was clearly the wrong decision against England with the Gloucester back-row beginning to catch the eye. Nathan Hughes feels very much an outside bet.
Best make other plans: Josh Strauss, Ryan Wilson, Ben Morgan, Jack Conan
Pack that suitcase: CJ Stander is the best back-row in Europe right now not named Monsieur Picamoles and therefore has cemented his place not just in the squad, but in the Test side too. It’s not just the hat-trick in Rome; he is a carrying and turnover machine. As for the rest, Justin Tipuric and Sam Warburton have both shone over the first two rounds. Two more spaces are up for grabs and a fully-fit James Haskell is worth considering. Sean O’Brien hasn’t set the world alight thus far in the tournament but deserves a look.
On standby: A mixed bunch in support, including Scotland’s Ryan Wilson, John Hardie and John Barclay all sparking at times while Tom Wood‘s stock has somewhat fallen. Peter O’Mahony can’t be counted out, nor Chris Robshaw even though he remains sidelined.
Best make other plans: Jack Clifford, Thomas Young, Teimana Harrison, Hamish Watson
Pack that suitcase: No looking past Jonny Gray and potential captain Alun Wyn Jones here, while Maro Itoje has filled in admirably at six but is at his best as a lock. And the final two places? After their blockbuster effort in Cardiff we’re going with Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, England’s alleged “second-choice” lock pairing who played out of their skin in that comeback win over Wales.
On standby: George Kruis and his chance of touring all hinges on how well he recovers from injury, while Devin Toner and Luke Charteris are experienced but not as dynamic. Jake Ball also came up short against England.
Best make other plans: Tim Swinson, Richie Gray, Donnacha Ryan, Iain Henderson, Ultan Dillane
Pack that suitcase: Ticking over nicely; Tadgh Furlong, Zander Fagerson and Dan Cole, which locks up the tighthead slot comfortably. On the loosehead side Mako Vunipola returns against Italy next weekend and makes it in for his ball-carrying ability. And the final place goes to Joe Marler, meaning no change here from our previous edition.
On standby: It’s hard right now to see a way back in for WP Nel but Cian Healy looks someway back to his best and is pushing McGrath hard for the starting role. Rob Evans and Samson Lee are trailing behind. Kyle Sinckler could well be a bolter.
Best make other plans: Nicky Smith, Tomas Francis, Allan Dell, Gordon Reid, John Ryan
Pack that suitcase: Very tricky indeed. When it comes to which of England’s two hookers has played better so far in the tournament, the honest answer is Jamie George, so he should be in the hunt. Rory Best missed the win over Italy but stays in. Rather than the obvious choice here of the England captain, we’re sticking with Ken Owens.
On standby: Remember, this is based on current form, and there is plenty of time for Dylan Hartley‘s game to pick up after his suspension. But for now he misses out. Fraser Brown and Niall Scannell are on the waiting list.
Best make other plans: Sean Cronin, Scott Baldwin, Luke Cowan-Dickie